Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Belief Beyond Borders
The seed from which this entry grew.
I am a Christian.
But I don't want to see a Christian nation.
At least and definitely, not in the way the current discussion uses the phrase. Proponents say that this nation was founded on God. It was also founded on the backs of slaves, the blood of indigenous peoples and the belief that man was and always should be the final arbiter of value. Why don't we return to our roots?
But that's an easy question to answer.
I think the more difficult one is for Christians: "Why are we such cowards?" Is our faith more steady when our government points guns at others?
For me, I believe one of the real tragedies of Christian history lay in Constantine's conversion to Christianity. It would've been a joyous occasion if only he produced fruits in line with repentance, if only he weren't Emperor, and if only the Christian faith hadn't been made official. Should the Church have been given Imperial authority to decide how to punish heresy and unorthodoxy? Israel of antiquity did it, so why not Rome, why not America? God had commanded the kings of Israel past to cut down the Asherah poles and demolish the altars to Baal. If these politicians wish for America to be a Christian nation why don't they stump for the demolition of mosques and fire-bombing of Buddhist temples? Should Billy Graham lead a cadre of Navy SEALs to seize Tom Cruise and the Christian Scientists?
My problem with this whole idea of a Christian nation is my very real conviction there's a lot of heresy pork-barreled into the words "Christian nation." When I see the term used, there's a very real idea of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Christianity, a Bible-belt Christianity, a kind of Christianity liberally sprinkled with football and country music references. I have never understood "Christian nation" to mean the Christianity of immigrants and refugees, the sector of Christianity most alive and thriving in America today. I have never understood the Christian to refer to urban Christianity of prison ministries, AIDS ministries, battered women ministries and homeless shelters. It has always been megachurch Christianity, happy, shiny, plasticanity, a sickening, saccharine creed of cowardice.
This belief I'm going to share with you next is applicable for every single area of life: The greater the trial, the greater the risk, the greater the pay-off. Doing hill sprints for a workout has a dramatic effect on improving my leg strength, lower-body power, cardiovascular system, and carving out a six-pack. But doing them requires intense mental exertion to keep going. For the rest of the day, I'll struggle with a seductive somnolence. I'll need to rest for the next few days or else I'd re-injure my right ankle and left knee. Big risk. Big pay-off.
The same is true of faith. The bigger the risk, the bigger the pay-off. When we clamor for security, what are we making safe and what are we endangering? When we want our government to secure our doctrinal borders along with our national borders, I can only see disaster as a result. There are lots of great passages in Scripture that illuminate the proper method of Christian ministry but this one from Psalm 20 has stuck with me since my days in Baruch has been this one: "Some trust in chariots, some trust in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God." Christian ministry is not predicated, never has been predicated, and never will be predicated on safety. Parents whose great hopes for their kids go no further than well-paying jobs, social acceptance at large and regular attendance at an ornate popular church don't get it. Rather Christian ministry contains a great deal of risk and unpopular choices that buck the conventional wisdom. Congregants say they need a bigger church but Christianity seems most alive in places where the faithful gather together in obscure places and whisper in hushed tones. A movement says we need to return to our roots and become a Christian nation that doesn't tolerate gays. I think Jesus' heart would be closer to the marginalized who's been cast out, trodden down and looked upon as a subhuman than the powerful majority, the oppressors.
It feels very safe to be in a great crowd of people who talk, think and dress like you. You're making yourself safe at the risk of having genuine connection with those outside of the tribe. It's a great personal risk to go where you are vulnerable, to have someone whose views and thoughts are opposite yours to be in power over you, but the possible reward is great for doing this testifies to your belief that such things don't matter, that God alone is the one who changes hearts and the changed heart, not the political boundary, is an indicator of where faith is.
Now there's a lot more to be said about what kind of specific legislative acts to vote for and the wisdom of voting one way or another, but that's for another time.